The Madras High Court has directed the Director of Public Health (DPH) to complete within six weeks the proceedings initiated against Wunderbar Films in 2014 for having promoted its movie VIP with cutouts of actor Dhanush smoking a cigarette.
Justice S.M. Subramaniam took note that the DPH had not proceeded with the issue for the last seven years since a writ petition filed by S. Cyril Alexander, State convenor of the Tamil Nadu People’s Forum for Tobacco Control, against the production firm was pending before the court.
The DPH was the nodal officer of a committee constituted by the State government under Section 25 of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulations of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act of 2003. He had issued notices to Mr. Dhanush, film director Velraj, the Tamil Nadu Film Producers’ Council, the Tamil Nadu Film Directors’ Association, Tamil Nadu Cinema Theatre Owners’ Association, Chennai Commissioner of Police, Corporation Commissioner and managers of various cinema halls in the city.
In his affidavit, the writ petitioner stated that apart from the promotional materials having violated the provisions of the 2003 Act, there were several scenes in the movie where the protagonist smokes cigarettes but the anti-smoking warning message was not carriedas required by law.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) replied that after receiving a complaint from the writ petitioner, it wrote to Wunderbar Films which, in turn, submitted a letter of apology and promised not to repeat the mistake. In so far as the promotion materials were concerned, they did not come under its purview, the CBFC said.
After taking note of the ill-effects of both active and passive smoking, the judge referred to a study which found that the country loses around ₹13,500 crore annually due to tobacco related issues, and that the losses outweigh the revenue earned through the sale of tobacco and employment generated by the industry.
Therefore, he directed the State government to fill up the vacancies in the committee constituted under the Section 25 of the 2003 Act, and ordered that prompt action must be taken by it on complaints received from the general public regarding violation of the Act